It’s a scary thought. Moving your child from a crib to a toddler bed. I’m sure you are dreading the amount of destruction your toddler will cause when they have free rein in their room! And them being able to leave their room and roam the house on their own! The anticipation of transitioning to a toddler bed can sometimes be harder than actually making the move. This guide is a combination of my experience and other parents that have successfully made this transition.
Is it Time?
There are many reasons why you want to start transitioning to a toddler bed. If your baby is climbing out of their crib, it can become a safety issue. Maybe your child has expressed interest in moving to a big bed. Or like us, if you are pregnant with another baby and need to free up the crib. We were pregnant with our second baby, who was due a couple months before our first son’s second birthday. The baby wouldn’t need the crib right away but we wanted the big move to be done a few months before he was faced with the new change of a baby.
Is there a right age?
We waited to potty train until 2 and ½ because the whole craziness of the new baby and other changes in our lives. He has developed more fears than he did when he was younger, and it’s caused challenges with potty training that he didn’t have with moving to a bed. Transitioning to his toddler bed at 20 months was a great age because he understood things but seemed less apprehensive of new environments. That has been our experience at least. Many wait until 3 to move to a toddler bed. Decide what works best for your family!
Before You Start
Have a consistent bedtime routine and bedtime. There should be some predictability around bedtime that remains after they move to the bed. Are there any other big changes happening? Or big trips coming up? You don’t want too much change at one time. Since we were expecting our second child, we made the change 2 months before the baby was born. If you are moving, potty training or any other big change, consider waiting for a calmer time.
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Reading books is one of my favorite things to do for ALL big transitions. We read books on becoming a big brother, going to a big boy bed and potty training. It really helps them learn about the change. They understand what it is coming and helps build it up as an exciting thing, not a scary one. These are a few of my favorites:
Decide on the kind of bed you want. We used a toddler bed since it was the right size and a great price on Amazon. A year later, it’s still working out great. We considered a twin bed, but ultimately decided on a toddler bed because how low they are to the ground. If you are starting off with a twin size bed, consider putting the mattress directly on the floor. Or buy toddler rails to attach to the sides. Also, many cribs convert to toddler beds. If it is not low to the ground or already include a rail, you may want toddler rails for that as well. If you want more ideas for the room, check out this post on converting your nursery to a toddler room.
There are some things you want to keep familiar, while also making this an exciting transition to a big boy or big girl room. The toddler bed meant we could use the same sheets he had on his crib. It was also placed in the same spot his crib was, used the same lamb sound machine and bedtime routines. Some things in the room we did change. We added a reading corner (since I moved the glider we read on to the baby room) and added a little play table (no play room so it’s a combo room of sorts).
Get your toddler involved and excited
Talk about being a big boy or big girl and how their bed looks like mommy and daddy’s. Stir up the excitement. If you want, they can pick out their new sheets or other decor for their room. Listen and empathize with any fears. Ours needed a night light and someone to lay down with him to help him relax.
Baby Proof Even More
Look around the room and make sure you have done everything you need to baby proof for a walking baby. There are things we hadn’t worried about because Miles would never be walking around alone in his room. Some things to look at:
- Securing dressers to the wall or any cords that may be dangling.
- Removing certain toys- there are mornings when he wakes up and pulls about 5 books into his bed, which is fine. There was a little piano in there that he would jam out on instead of going to bed. That created too much of a party atmosphere so we took it out. So any toys that are battery operated and can light up or make noises, as well as toys they would need your help with.
- Observe any other small changes such as a low sitting lamp that may need to be moved to another room.
Start the Transition with Nap Time
It’s easier to get them used to their bed in a smaller stretch of sleep. Also, if they end up not sleeping- it’s not as huge of a loss! You can observe how they do and adjust for night time. Start your nap or bedtime routine earlier by 30-60 minutes, because there is some excitement around this new freedom that could make them get up and walk around. Resist the urge to go in there if they get out of bed and start messing with stuff. Remember you baby proofed and they are safe. The novelty wears off and they do fall asleep eventually!
Know that you may have obstacles, but don’t give up! I’m currently going through some public bathroom fears after potty training. That’s a whole other post, but it makes me want to give up and slap a diaper on him because of the meltdown he had yesterday. But we are just taking the public bathroom thing slow and trying new things as we go.
Take down the crib and put it away. This helps to not go back and forth, just commit to the change. If your toddler is really attached to their crib, then it can be moved to the side of their room at first. Ours wasn’t, so he didn’t really react to its absence.
In the case of a new baby, I didn’t set up the crib in the new nursery right away….but a couple months later. He was already used to and loved his new bed and didn’t associate the baby with “stealing” his crib or forcing his transition.
Be Firm and Consistent
Keep a positive outlook and tone. Give lots of praise and encouragement for every time they sleep in bed, or make any progress. Your toddler may start saying he needs water or another story or to talk to you longer. You can bring them a little water in bed. Or lay with them in bed. The key is they stay in bed. We also had to have a 3 book rule for bedtime- so he knows for sure that every night it happens the same way and there’s no negotiating out of it.
If they get out of bed…
This will happen. They may even sleep on the floor sometimes. Just make sure you have a video monitor where you can see what they are doing. We would watch him on the monitor walking around and we’d be freaking out- wondering if he’d ever go to sleep. But he did! And he does consistently.
If they leave their room…
Safety locks on the doors. Confession. I’ve taught my toddler a lot of things that he can do for himself. We are working on getting dressed, brushing teeth etc. But I have avoided teaching him how to open doors. It’s been kind of great that he can’t get out of his room by himself. So he usually plays in his room if he wakes up early. Other parents have gotten safety locks for the doors, or baby gates so that you don’t have to worry about them roaming the house on their own.
If they wake up too early…
Toddler alarm clocks can help tell your toddler know when it’s time to wake up. Meaning- we will not be coming in your room to wake up until this clock goes off. So if they wake up early, they know it’s not time and will try to go back to sleep or play independently.
If there is crying…
Comfort them. They may be scared and their fear is very real to them. Hold them until they calm down and ease them into sleep. If you need to lay down with them until they fall asleep, do that. BUT, make sure this happens during the change, not after so it doesn’t become something they absolutely need to fall asleep.
If they can’t calm down…
You see that your toddler is consistently not going to sleep right away and having a hard time falling asleep- move their bedtime earlier. There was a while when Miles would play for sooo long after we put him in his room. It took him forever to fall asleep. Life and after work activities had kept moving his bedtime back closer to 9pm. We moved it up to 8pm again and he fell asleep a lot quicker. Earlier bedtimes can work wonders!
Don’t give up! It may be an easy transition or it may be tougher. Each child is different. And even individual children handle different transitions differently. Like I mentioned, my son was excited about his new bed and this went well. And now with potty training, he was crying hysterically yesterday, which made me start tearing up because I felt so helpless and bad for him. Some transitions are easier than others, but we can help them work through those hurdles of life. Because it won’t be the last tough thing we’ll have to help them with!